In October 2017, California experienced the worst and deadliest wildfires in the state’s history. 14 Wildfires burned across eight counties simultaneously. On the first night of the fires in Sonoma and Napa Counties, residents were brutally awakened. Tashi Kennedy describes what she woke up to at 2:30 AM, “We looked outside only to find utter chaos. Smoke, heavy winds, people fleeing the neighborhood yelling ‘fire.'”
Local landmarks, wineries, and entire neighborhoods were hastily burned down to the ground as the Tubbs, Atlas, Nuns, and many other wildfires rapidly burned out of control. 3,500 homes and business were destroyed and 31 (and counting) lives were lost. From historical landmarks to family homes, these images show the destruction and devastation from the 2017 California wildfires.
It Started In Calistoga And Quickly Leveled Fountaingrove
The Tubbs Fire got its name when it started near Tubbs lane in Calistoga on Sunday evening of October 8, 2017. By 1 AM Monday morning, the fire had spread into the Mark West area of Santa Rosa, and quickly caught the neighborhood of Fountaingrove on fire while residents slept in their homes.
At 1:30 AM people began to wake up to high winds and flames surrounding their homes as others nearby burned down. Neighbors screamed “fire!”, honked their horns and knocked on doors, doing anything they could to alert their neighbors. Born and raised in Fountaingrove, resident Lindsay Moylan recalls, “Our neighbor woke us up and the fire was there, we had to leave immediately. There was no time. I only had a few minutes to get my kitty. I grabbed her and we all left. It was insane. The winds were so strong and the fire was moving rapidly. We’re lucky to be alive.” She lost her home that her father had built and their family had lived in for 32 years.
Unfortunately, that was just the beginning.
The New Fountaingrove Fire Station Didn’t Make It
Kent Porter / Press Democrat
The Fountaingrove fire station was only open for around two years before it burned down. The station cost the city $4 million and was 5,300 square feet. Located in the heart of the Fountaingrove neighborhood damage, it burned down on October 9, 2017, along with the majority of the neighborhood. The Tubbs fire continued to grow, and four days after the fire started, would spread across 34,200-acres with only a 10% containment. Firefighters worked tirelessly around the clock. They were also in the same boat as the rest of the community, with their homes in danger, including Mill Valley Fire Chief Tom Welch who lost his home while battling the fire.
Next, the Fountaingrove Hilton Hotel caught on fire.
Fountaingrove Hilton Hotel Quickly Evacuated
Google Street View; After: Paul Koroda
After ripping through the homes of Fountaingrove, the fire burned down the hill and hit the Hilton Hotel at the bottom of the hill. That day 20,000 people evacuated and sadly there was a death toll to report. By Monday afternoon California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties, and the state’s National Guard was called into action.
Firefighter’s priority was getting people out and saving lives as wild winds sent the fire in unpredictable directions. Evacuation orders were issued for many neighborhoods across Sonoma and Napa counties, encouraging people to get out early.
Sadly, a 100-year-old local landmark would be the next casualty to the fire.
History Lost: Fountaingrove Round Barn
The iconic red round barn sat on the hilltop at the beginning of the Fountaingrove area, just above the Fountaingrove Inn and Hotel. The Round Barn was nearly 60 feet high, had 16 sides, and was approximately 70 feet in diameter. It was a historic landmark located just outside of Downtown Santa Rosa. The Fountaingrove area was first settled by Thomas Lake Harris way back in 1875. He purchased 1400 acres of land for $21,000. The Round Barn was built on the land by John Clark Lindsay in 1898. Harris used it for winemaking and supplied 90% of the wine for Sonoma County at the time. Sadly, the Round Barn was destroyed during the first 24 hours of the wildfire on October 9, 2017.
Around 2:00 AM, the winds blew the flames across highway 101 and the fire ignited on the other side.
Arby’s Burned Overnight
Google Street View; After: Robert Digitale/The Press Democrat
It was still dark as night when the fire jumped the 101 highway heading towards a commercial area, a trailer park, and more neighborhoods on the other side. Arby’s didn’t stand a chance and burned overnight. The fires were happening so quickly that no one was warned and there was not yet a presence of responders to the disaster.
By the end of the day Monday, 266,000 gallons of fire retardant from a Sacramento air base was dropped from aircraft on the fires. Cal Fire Director Ken Pimlott reported that firefighters flew 45 missions Monday, and had 4,000 personnel deployed.
The shopping center continued to burn.
An Empty Applebee’s Was Burned To The Ground
More commercial buildings on Hopper Avenue in Santa Rosa began to suffer from the fires as Applebee’s burned too. Later that day the world’s largest firefighting air tanker would be called in. Based in Colorado, the converted 747 dropped more fire retardant on the hills surrounding the communities. Many state parks around the area, including Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Hood Mountain Regional Park and Annadel State Park, burned without any signs of slowing down, putting the communities nearby in immediate danger. After one day of the fires, more than 100 people were being treated for fire-related injuries including burns, smoke inhalation and shortness of breath.
The K-Mart Building Made Matters Worse
Google Street View; After: Kent Porter/The Press Democrat
The 114,000 square foot K Mart was one of the larger commercial buildings to burn on the first day of the wildfires in Santa Rosa. The winds were up to 50 mph in the early hours of the morning, causing volatile burning conditions and extreme rates of spreading. More than 180 people were reported missing that day as towers and phone lines collapsed and burned and Fountaingrove residents were left with whatever they escaped with. Most of the state wasn’t even awake while an entire neighborhood had quickly lost everything they owned.
While K Mart and Applebee’s burned, another neighborhood caught on fire while people slept.
Senior Citizens In Danger At Journey’s End Trailer Park
Journey’s End trailer park sat within close distance to the Round Barn and the Hilton hotel. Once the flames jumped the roads, Journey’s End was in immediate danger. The park was an even more critical evacuation, as it was a senior citizen community and many of the residents were handicapped and living alone, making it harder to flee. At least 100 of the 160 homes were damaged or completely burned down.
69-year-old Linda Tunis lost her life in the fire. Her daughter posted on Facebook, “My mother’s remains have been found at her home at Journey’s End. May she rest in peace, my sweet Momma.” ABC 7 News talked with James Cook, manager of Journey’s End who said, “We were doing a door-to-door, knocking on the doors, getting people out.” Another woman, with memory loss, is still missing.
Owner Of Willi’s Wine Bar Volunteers After It Burns Down
After: Kent Porter/The Press Democrat
A local favorite, Willi’s Wine Bar was another casualty of the Tubbs fire on the first day of the fire before dawn. The classic roadhouse-style bar was critically acclaimed and a local gem. The bar and restaurant had been on the list of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Bay Area Top 100 Restaurants for four consecutive years. Local resident Sue Asay told the LA Times, “It just had so much character. That stuff is the history of the area.”
Just three days after her restaurant burned to the ground, one of the owner of Willi’s, Terri Stark, graciously volunteered to help feed evacuees and emergency responders by working in the kitchen of a restaurant offering free meals. She told the SF Chronicle, “People are on survival mode right now. And they’ve either lost everything, or they evacuated and have nothing to come back to.”
Cardinal Newman High School Suffers Damage
Several schools were lost in the wildfires, including Cardinal Newman High School, Roseland Collegiate Prep, and Hidden Valley Satellite School. The rest of the schools across the affected counties were closed during the fires. Cardinal Newman’s principal Graham Rutherford estimated that between 15-18 classrooms were damaged, along with the library, main office, and portable classrooms.
Sonoma County Superintendent Steve Herrington said, “Once safety is secured, we must come together to support the many in our community who will be in need of shelter, supplies, and comfort. Schools are truly safe heaves where all can gather.”
At this point, it was 2:30 AM and now the fire was on its way to Coffey Park, where residents were fast asleep.
The Neighborhood Vanished: Coffey Park, Santa Rosa
By 3 AM the fire reached the neighborhood of Coffey Park, only one mile from the Hilton hotel. Residents awoke to flames in the early hours of Monday morning, many narrowly escaped their burning homes, without any warning of the fire. As shown in the before and after images, none of the homes survived. Luckily, many animals who were left stranded after their homes burned and residents fled were saved and brought to the local shelter where they were treated for burns and their photos shared on social media in hopes of finding their owner.
Many of the residents said they were just lucky to be alive.
Coffey Park Residents Left Everything Behind
Santa Rosa natives Tashi and Derek Kennedy moved to the Coffey Park neighborhood after getting married in 2016. They hadn’t even been in their new home for a year when it burned to the ground in the Tubbs wildfire. Tashi recalls, “We woke up at 2:30 AM to the smell of smoke and a text from a friend asking if we were safe because there’s a fire really close to us. We looked outside only to find utter chaos. We were out of there in two minutes. My husband went back 30 minutes later to look for our cat and couldn’t find her. He left the doors open for the cat to flee and then fled himself.”
With the help of social media, the couple was reunited with their cat, Catnap. The cat was found with burns on her paws and treated at the VCA. Sadly, their home was destroyed. She continued, “My husband returned later on in the morning to find everything gone. Our whole neighborhood was completely gone.” The couple has set-up a Go Fund Me account in hopes of getting back on their feet and moving on from the devastation.
Meanwhile, the Tubbs, Nuns, and Atlas fires touched down on the wineries.
LOVE Wins: Paradise Ridge Winery, Santa Rosa
Left: Courtesy of Zack-Yaste Wedding/Sam HassasRight: Gillian Overholser
Wineries in Sonoma and Napa Counties are popular destinations for weddings, with perfect weather conditions and beautiful vineyard scenery. Wineries are also an important industry for the economy in the North Bay Area, and the passion and the pride of residents. Above is Paradise Ridge Winery, located in Santa Rosa which was completely destroyed in the fire.
The LOVE art in the sculpture garden on the property is a favorite for wedding photos. The photo on the left is the wedding of Julie Zack Yaste and Cameron Yaste in September of 2012. The image on the right was taken on October 10, 2017. The LOVE art arrived here after it was on display at Burning Man. It survived both the festival and the wildfire, proving love wins.
After the fire destroyed the winery, a photographer noticed something eerie.
A Hot River Of Wine Flows Down The Hill
JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images
Residents were strongly cautioned by officials not to reenter evacuated areas, however, many people slipped back into the evacuation zones to see if their houses were left standing. One photographer, Josh Edelson, made his way to the site of Paradise Ridge Winery and found a river of boiling red wine flowing down the hill. This eerie image is symbolic of the world-class wine that was lost in the wildfires, the heart of the wine country. He told the SF Gate, “I saw a pool of wine and it was flowing lightly down the hill and as I got close to it, I noticed that it was bubbling. At first, I didn’t understand it, but then it dawned on me that the ground was hot and the wine was boiling with all that stuff smoldering around it.”
42 Acres, 38-Year-Old Vines Destroyed
Before: James Gateley; After: Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
Sonoma and Napa counties continued to burn and spread in unpredictable ways. Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann described the challenges that the crews were facing. “We have folks on the fire line starting their third shift right now that has not been relieved. Because there are folks not available to come in, with so many fires in the area.” Signorello Estate Winery was damaged by the Atlas fire, the biggest of the California fires, which by later in the week had destroyed 48,228 acres across Napa and Solano counties.
Signorello Was A Beautiful Winery In Napa
Before: James Gateley; After: Jim Wilson/The New York Times
Amazingly, another image shows there are some fermentation tanks still left standing at Signorello Estate winery but the structures and vines on the 42 acres of property were burned. Winemaker Pierre Birebent and the Signorello crew were on location as the fire reached the property, and attempted to save it.
Ronald Plunkett, the Estate Sommelier, told SF Eater, “When the fire first broke out, they tried to use water and hose it down until it kind of overran them and the fire department kicked them out of the winery.” He continued, “We have 38-year-old Chardonnay vines; those are irreplaceable. If we’ve lost from the vineyard, it takes five years to get your next viable crop if we have to replant. God forbid it’s a 100-percent loss. [That would mean] we can’t produce wine for another five years. That’s huge.”
Stornetta Dairy in Sonoma Reduced To Nothing
Google Street View; After: Stephen Lam/Reuters
City and county officials strongly cautioned people to not return to evacuated zones. Sonoma County Sheriff Rober Giordano said in a press conference, “If you have a place to go, go; you don’t need to be here. I can’t stress this enough. If you’re in an evacuation zone, you cannot come home.”
Sonoma, where Stronetta Dairy (also known as Clover) resided, had been heavily evacuated throughout the week. Thankfully firefighters were able to build a contingent line and buffer areas around the community to prevent the fire from jumping over.
On the other side of the ridge, the city of Calistoga faced a giant threat.
The Entire City Of Calistoga Faced Mandatory Evacuation
AP Photo/Ben Margot
Three days after it had begun, the Tubbs wildfire had grown further out of control and was still at zero percent containment. At this point, 3,500 homes and businesses had been destroyed.
By Wednesday, October 11, 2017, the winds shifted and sent the fire back towards the city of Calistoga. This time, the entire city was in danger. That evening there were mandatory evacuation orders placed on the entire city, home to around 5,000 residents. Police officers arrived from the city of Oakland to help, and went door-to-door calling for evacuations, and letting residents know that they would be arrested if they refused to leave.
Residents Pleaded For Help Evacuating Horses
Throughout wine country, residents have horses and livestock on their property that became in direct danger of the wildfires, many in mandatory evacuation areas. Melanie Loarm with Sonoma Napa Livestock told ABC News, “A lady on Facebook said she had some horses two days ago. [But] We couldn’t get in.” Luckily the crew was able to locate the horses and get them out quickly. Hilary Merrill said, “They just came running up to the gate and let us take them.”
Other residents sorrowfully opened the gates and let their horses fend for themselves, as they had no way to transport them. Others led them outside of their trucks. Luckily the vacant Solana County Fairgrounds barn provided a safe haven for over 100 evacuated horses and their owners.
The Map Of Truth
By Thursday, October 12, 2017, many people were still evacuated from their homes and were not allowed to return to the area to survey the damage as embers and natural gas lines were still active. 20,000 people had evacuated at this point, sending thousands to local shelters without knowing if their homes had survived the fires. That’s when officials announced they had an updated map of the damage available to the public. People were then able to view the maps online and see if their house was still standing. (The red shown are trees and other agriculture, not fire.) For many people, this is how they found out if they still had a home to get back to when the evacuation orders were lifted in a week or longer.
Sadly the death toll continues to rise during the California wildfires, as tens of thousands of residents are displaced and many lost everything. If you’d like to help, please visit the GoFundMe campaigns that were launched to help victims.